Urgent need to kick-start R&D for killer diseases in poor countries

International experts call for new public initiatives and global support.

New York, March 14, 2002 - Research and development of new medicines for diseases such as sleeping sickness, kala azar, and malaria that kill millions each year in the developing world is urgently needed, according to a group of 150 international experts meeting in New York this week.

"Doctors in poor countries are forced to use old and ineffective treatments to treat their patients who are dying from treatable diseases because profit, not need, is driving the development of new medicines," said Morten Rostrup, MD, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) International Council president, in his opening address.

"Only 16 new drugs were developed for tropical diseases and tuberculosis in the past 25 years. We have the scientific know-how to right this fatal imbalance, but serious political and financial commitment is lacking."

Conference participants explored new paradigms for stimulating research and development for drugs for neglected diseases, including a not-for-profit, needs-driven initiative to support research and development of new drugs for the most neglected diseases.

Financial and political support from the United States and other wealthy countries would be urgently needed for the success of such an initiative. Building up the drug research and development capacity in developing countries must also be a key part of the solution, according to conference participants.

Prominent members of public research institutes in Brazil, India, and Malaysia, the Pasteur Institute, the World Health Organization/World Bank/United Nations Development Program for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR) and MSF are actively working to define a needs-based solution to the drugs for neglected diseases crisis. Others are certain to join this active effort. In collaboration with partners, MSF is funding five pilot projects to develop new drugs for malaria, kala azar, and sleeping sickness.

"Breakthroughs in medical science have given doctors in wealthy countries impressive new tools for treating everything from cardiovascular disease and cancer to impotence and baldness. But very little is happening for infectious diseases of the developing world that are most neglected by the pharmaceutical industry because they are not profitable," said Els Torreele, PhD, chair of the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Working Group.

"Global health is a public responsibility. When the market and industry fail to meet the health needs of a large part of the world’s population, the public sector must step in," concluded Dr Rostrup.

Convened by the international medical aid organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Working Group in New York, "The Crisis of Neglected Diseases: Developing Treatments and Ensuring Access" conference brought together over 400 people, including representatives from the US government, the European Union, the World Health Organization, representatives from neglected-disease affected countries, and the pharmaceutical industry, to address the inadequacy of the current system of drug development.

For more information on "The Crisis of Neglected Diseases: Developing Treatments and Ensuring Access" conference, see www.neglecteddiseases.org